In the summer of 1964, a boy and a girl meet backstage during a play taking place at the local church. He is a sort of Boy Scout, spending time away from his foster home at a summer camp; she is the only daughter in a family of six, playing a raven in the play. It is – in an odd sort of way – love at first sight, and the two begin a correspondence which will run the length of an entire year. Flash forward to the present – summer of 1965: both children have disappeared, and journeyed out into the wild to embrace their longings for adventure and each other. It is the story of their journey – in addition to the one led by their scout master and parents, respectively – that is conveyed in Wes Anderson’s quirky new film, Moonrise Kingdom.
Opening with some of the most simplistically eye-catching title credits I’ve ever seen, Moonrise Kingdom maintains a commanding visual style throughout its briskly-paced ninety-four minutes that does much to set its tone of off-beat artistry. This is only highlighted by Anderson’s choices for this film’s ensemble cast, which include Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton – not to mention a surprise appearance from Harvey Keitel. The funny thing is how these stars are given so little time for the proper development of character, so they become more like faces to watch rather than people to feel for. Murray and McDormand – as parents of the girl in question – apparently have a troubled marriage, but it feels as though they are scarcely in the movie, and so I can’t say that this issue seems to matter that much, outside of how it affects their daughter. The same goes for Norton – whose character has a couple of good emotional set-ups which could have been fleshed out by a more fully-realized personality – while Keitel and Swinton’s characters are minor enough for this to not be an issue. The one star of this roster who stands out is Willis, whose Captain Sharp is given enough screen time for us to appreciate as a lonely and sympathetic floater, missing the spark that still fills the eyes of our bizarrely romantic young couple.
Speaking of which, it is this duo of new-on-the-scene child actors who are truly the focus of – and noteworthy aspects – of this film. Jared Gilman does fine work as the unwanted and practical-minded Sam, a boy who’s just looking for love, and finds it in his equally unloved traveling companion. But it is Kara Hayward as the deceivingly bored-looking Suzy who really comes through due to her unexpected sense of humor and skillfully subdued facial expressions. Together, Gilman and Hayward represent the core of this film, and it is ultimately they who inject it with the charisma and kookiness in character to match its unconventional visual style.
Moonrise Kingdom is refreshing cinema – not because it’s particularly daring in any sort of way, but simply because of the fact that it’s in good taste, and that it presents itself as its own entity – its very own, individual entity. While aside from its young leads it may be a bit lacking in character, this movie stands out as a charming way to kick off the official summer months, and makes for a decent alternative to anyone looking for a little variety in the movies they see.